Sycamore trees are unusual-looking hardwoods that grow throughout North America. They can grow quite large, so if you need to chop one down, you’ll end up with a lot of wood.
Are you wondering if sycamore is any good for the fire? Does it compare to other popular types of wood like hickory and maple?
In this article, we’ll help you decide whether sycamore makes good firewood. You’ll discover its feature, pros, cons, seasoning advice, and much more.
Is sycamore good for firewood?
Sycamore makes useful firewood for the shoulder season, with good coaling properties, no offensive smells, and few sparks. However, its heat output is low compared to other popular firewood types, so if you live in a cold climate there are better alternatives.
- Gives off a relatively low 19.5 million BTUs of heat per cord.
- Is super-heavy wood before seasoning.
- Stringy, twisted fibers can make it tough to split.
- An okay wood that makes good kindling.
Sycamore firewood burn qualities
1. Heat output
It’s nice to have a fire that produces plenty of heat on extra cold winter nights. Sycamore has a heat output of 19.5 million BTUs per cord, which is a little below average. It outperforms spruce, red cedar, white pine, and buckeye. However, firewood like apple, beech, oak, and hickory are much better options if they’re available.
If you live in a mild climate or plan on using the firewood for slow-cooking, heat output won’t be a deal-breaker. Sycamore will make perfectly fine firewood that gives off enough warmth for most.
To get the best heat out possible from the fire, avoid using green wood. The flames will waste a lot of energy trying to evaporate water stored in the fibers. Seasoned sycamore burns much hotter and cleaner.
Check out the following table comparing the heat output of sycamore to various other common types of firewood.
|Wood variety||Heat per Cord (Million BTUs)|
|Eastern red cedar||13.0|
Sycamore firewood gives off medium levels of smoke, so if you’re sensitive to smoky conditions then this won’t be at the top of your list. There are worse woods for smoke emission, like pine and Douglas fir. But sycamore won’t burn as cleanly as alternatives like ash and Kentucky coffeetree.
Seasoning will play a big part in helping reduce the amount of smoke sycamore gives off. The longer it’s left to dry, the less smoke you’ll have to deal with. It’s a quick-drying wood so usually, 6-12 months is all that’s needed.
3. Ease of splitting
Splitting sycamore wood isn’t as easy as most common firewood varieties. Unlike cherry and willow, you may find the wood fibers are knotty and twisted. Some people find it so hard to split, that they don’t use an axe to get the job done. Instead, they opt for a commercial splitting machine or a chainsaw.
We don’t think this factor should stop you from using sycamore as firewood though. Even if you only have an axe, you may get lucky and find that the wood you’ve got is easy to process. For more stubborn wood, you can always try using a quality maul of a powerful splitting axe like the Fiskars X27.
Sycamore doesn’t spark and pop much once it’s on fire. Although this may not sound important, it’s good to know you can relax in front of the fire without getting hit by flying embers. There’s also less risk of starting an unwanted fire, whether it’s out in the forest or in your own home.
Some types of firewood produce an amazing smell that gives your house a homely feel. If you enjoy smoking meat, then you’ll also want to pay close attention to the aroma wood gives off.
While sycamore firewood has very little fragrance, it’ll still provide that relaxing, campfire-like aroma people love. There is no offensive smell like what you can sometimes get from buckeye or elm.
The quality of coal produced by firewood impacts how well a fire burns and how long the fire will last. Sycamore tends to burn fast and has average coaling properties. It won’t perform as well as black locust or mulberry in your fireplace. If possible, try to use it in combination with another slow-burning hardwood.
7. Creosote build-up
Sycamore is a hardwood that doesn’t produce much creosote, a carcinogenic type of black tar. Small amounts aren’t a concern, but some firewood produces the stuff at high levels. That means chimney cleaning becomes a much more regular chore. Using sycamore means you won’t have to deal with excessive creosote build-up.
Pros and cons of sycamore
- Great for getting a fire started.
- Low levels of sparking and popping.
- No offensive aromas when burning.
- Can be hard to split using an axe or maul.
- Doesn’t produce a lot of heat.
Tips for seasoning sycamore
Seasoned wood means it has been thoroughly dried after the tree has been felled. Burning unseasoned sycamore is not a good idea unless you have no other sources of fuel. The heat output will be less than optimal, and the smoke won’t be enjoyable.
Of course, there are ways to speed up the seasoning process. The hot, dry climate is ideal for seasoning. If you don’t have weather on your side, follow these tips to dry it out faster.
- Stack in the right place: speed up drying time by positioning the face of the stack towards the wind and avoiding shady areas.
- Space out the rows: create a series of stacks with a 3-5” gap between each one to encourage air circulation.
- Split the firewood: by splitting the logs, you increase the surface area that gets exposed to sunshine and wind.
- Cover the wood: use a tarp or similar cover to protect the stacks from rain and snow while keeping one side exposed to the wind.
- Raise the wood: lay the wood on some planks or pallets to allow airflow under the wood.
Commonly asked questions
What is sycamore?
The sycamore tree (Platanus occidentalis) is a large hardwood tree that can grow over 100 feet tall. Found in many parts of the United States, this tree is also called buttonwood, buttonball, water beech, or American planetree.
How do I identify sycamore firewood?
The easiest way to identify sycamore wood is by its flaky bark which can be pulled off to reveal a whitish-green layer underneath. If you’re looking at a whole tree, then check the leaves. They are huge and grow individually in an alternating left-right pattern on branches. The leaves can also be identified by their shape which is similar to maple but much bigger.
How long do I season sycamore?
Sycamore is a fast-drying wood that is usually ready to use after seasoning for 6-12 months. If you’re unsure whether the wood is ready to use, you may want to buy a moisture meter to check that the water content is below 20%.
Where do sycamores grow?
American sycamores are native to the United States and grow naturally in the lower midwest and southeast. California sycamores (Platanus Racemosa) enjoy the warm climate of Mexico and California.
Sycamore doesn’t match up to popular firewood like oak or hickory, but it’s still a reasonable choice for firewood. It’s a great option for kindling and burning alongside other slower-burning firewood. Sycamore is also good for shoulder seasons when the weather isn’t at its coldest.
Like most firewood, you’ll find a range of comments about sycamore. Trees grow differently depending on a range of conditions, so your experience with sycamore could differ from ours. In general, though, we think our review reflects what most people say about this wood.